Dallas Hospital Beds Nearly Full, But the Real Worry Is Running Out of Doctors and Nurses

While the vaccine rollout begins, hospitals are stretched to the brink.
While the vaccine rollout begins, hospitals are stretched to the brink. Wiki Commons
Last week, just as some of North Texas’ front-line healthcare workers got their first dose of relief via Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, their jobs got increasingly taxing. The number of hospital beds they’re tending are either filled to capacity or precariously close to it.

A New York Times tracking tool shows that ICU beds at City Hospital White Rock, Baylor University Medical Center, Methodist in Mansfield and Medical City Las Colinas are at 100% capacity. Methodist and Baylor in Iriving have one bed, Parkland and UT Southwestern have two beds each.

Children’s hospitals in both Dallas and Fort Worth are not at capacity.

During a press conference Friday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said this surge is likely from Thanksgiving travel. When asked about plans for overflow at local hospitals, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services Dr. Philip Huang said that each hospital has surge plans, including canceling all elective surgeries.

Jenkins added that they do not plan on reopening emergency hospital space in the Kay Baily Hutchinson Convention Center or any other space to accommodate overflow, as was done in the spring during the first surge of infections. “It didn’t work very well,” Jenkin says of the first effort, which led to a tiff between the county and Gov. Greg Abbott's office after the latter threatened to move the temporary beds.

Jenkins explained that local hospitals have the ability to turn surgery suites into an ICU room and also most rooms at hospitals are single occupancy but can be transformed into double occupancy.

But, just because you create another bed, “does not create another nurse who is skilled in the ICU,” Jenkins said. Additionally, since hospitals are at capacity in all areas of the state, there’s no pool of extra critical care medical workers to pull from.

“There are no healthcare heroes on the sidelines,” Jenkins said. “If they have to have people stacked on top of each other, they’ll make it work, but the level of care will be compromised,” Jenkins said in a bid to encourage people to stay home over the holidays.

Huang reported there's an average of 1,600 cases a day in Dallas County now and 2,859 people are hospitalized due to COVID, an 85% increase over Nov. 1. About a third of those patients end up in ICU and one-fifth of those on ventilators. Huang added Friday that confirmed admissions into hospitals in the previous 24 hours was the highest it’s ever been.

“Another surge would be devastating on our healthcare providers,” Huang said, referring to the holiday season. “Occupancy rate is at a record high, the hospital numbers are continuing to increase.”

And even though the vaccine is rolling out, Huang emphasized we cannot let our guard down or relax, the vaccine may not be available to the entire public until July through October. 

In a press conference on Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that Texas should receive 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year, which will go to healthcare workers, EMS responders and patients and staff at long-term care facilities.

Abbott also said he hopes teachers will be near the front of the line as the vaccine gets more widely distributed in the coming months, even though as of now, they’re not listed on the state allocation plan. Nor are jailers or workers at detention facilities, a point brought up by County Commissioner John Wiley Price in a meeting last week.

Jenkins said that last week 111 sites received the vaccine to distribute, and this week more than 1,100 sites will, including pharmacies that will work directly with long-term care facilities. It hasn't been revealed exactly how many doses Texas will get next week, although Abbott did say Thursday Texas should get millions of both Pfizer and a competing Moderna vaccine in the coming days, the latter which won FDA approval late Friday.

Jenkins again implored people not to travel or see people outside of their immediate family over the holidays and instead visit virtually, shop online, use curbside pickup and plan ahead. He also cited new evidence released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the coronavirus can travel up to 20 feet away in an indoor setting.
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.